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Sporting legend Ian Thorpe's mental health journey is proof you never know what someone is going through

''I am someone who has struggled with mental health issues since I was a teen.''

By Faye Couros
Trigger Warning: This article discusses topics like mental health and suicide. If you or someone you know needs help, you can call Lifeline on 131 114 or Beyond Blue 1300 224 636.
At just 15-years-old Ian Thorpe became a world champion swimmer. Two years later he won three gold medals at Sydney's Olympics in 2000 and by the time he was 21, he had two more golds to his name after winning at the 2004 Athens games.
But underneath the pool's surface, Ian was experiencing deep struggles with depression, and it wasn't until years later that he shared this information with the world.
It was a shock decision when the "Thorpedo" prematurely left swimming in 2006, and in 2020 he revealed to the Saturday Telegraph that he would have competed at two more Olympics if he had received better care for his mental health, adding that the sport's culture made speaking out difficult.
"Yes, we had a team psychologist, but people felt that if you saw him, then you had an issue," Ian told the publication.
Ultimately, when he found the courage to speak to the psychologist, it changed how he approached his mental health.
"When I saw him, he asked why I was doubting my ability and then gave me a pep talk. From there it was up to me," he explained.
"The attitude to mental health was very different back then, although we do still have some way to go in breaking down the stigma."
For almost a decade now, the 38-year-old has been candid about his journey, the demons he has faced, and he has worked in the community to help other young people.
Ian won his first gold medal at 17-years-old. Getty

How long has Ian Thorpe experienced mental health struggles?

The swimmer has experienced ups and downs with his mental health since he was a teenager.
In a detailed blog post for the Huffington Post Australia, he shared that he never told anyone and kept his pain hidden.
"I am someone who has struggled with mental health issues since I was a teen," he began.
"From the outside, many would not see my pain nor be able to relate to the sometimes-daily struggle I was facing.
"This is part of the deception of depression and also mental illness: what may appear at face value is a stark difference from the agony that lies within," he finished.
"I am someone who has struggled with mental health issues since I was a teen." Instagram
In the years since he has shared his truth with his family and the world, it's become important to Ian that he doesn't let his mental illness define him.
He feels strongly about this because he doesn't want to feel trapped by an unhealthy mindset.
"Even though I may at times struggle with depression, I've decided I don't want it to define me."
"Although it may have taken me a while to get to this point and realisation in my life, I assure you it's worth it.
"I realise the wonder of the world, and I approach each day with an enthusiasm that I haven't felt for what seems like an eternity," he wrote.
Ian works with ReachOut to help Australian youth. Getty

Did Ian Thorpe struggle with his international popularity and lucrative accolades?

In a feature with the ABC, the Olympian detailed his struggle to rationalise his health because he felt it didn't reflect his accrued success.
It wasn't until he left the sport that he was able to see his situation more clearly.
"Because you've done something extremely well, you start to question why you feel the way you do," he said.
"It becomes difficult when you try to rationalise that. There's also a sense of guilt for not feeling on top of the world when really you should be. But if you're a depressed person in a depressed state, you don't rationalise things well. You have to be out of that period to be able to see things clearly."

Did Ian Thorpe rely on alcohol to feel better?

In Ian's 2012 autobiography This Is Me, the swimmer revealed he used alcohol to cope during the thick of his career; even though he initially didn't take to drinking, he found it helped numb his "black periods."
"The more I tried it, though, the more I found it suppressed my feelings. And a few years later, when my black periods grew more frequent, I found that the more I drank, the better I felt - or rather, the less bad I felt," he wrote.
"Although that only lasted until I woke up the next morning to go to training. My poison was always red wine, at times drunk in quantities that now seem unbelievable."
The swimmer released his autobiography in 2012. Simon & Schuster UK

Has Ian Thorpe opened up about experiencing suicidal ideation?

One of the most jarring topics Ian discussed in his book was when he told his readers that he contemplated suicide during his darkest periods.
He wrote, "My illness was so severe that, at times, I considered suicide. My blackest periods would often last a month, and it was during those times that I thought about "it" happening.
"I even considered specific places or a specific way to kill myself, but then always baulked, realising how ridiculous it was. Could I have killed myself? Looking back, I don't think so, but there were days in my life that, even now, make me shudder," he finished.
WATCH BELOW: Ian Thorpe discusses his sexuality. Post continues after video...

Has Ian Thorpe spoken about his relationship with his mental health recently?

Luckily, it seems like Ian is in a better place after trying to navigate his health for years.
In October 2020, he told the Daily Mail Australia that he's happy, and although he experiences ups and downs, he is better at navigating those emotions.
"I only ever aspired to be content in what I was doing, and then there was a point where I realised - you know what, I'm actually happy.
"I can still experience the emotions and the elation that I'm so happy in my own skin.
"Then, I've gone through periods where I need help, and then most of the time, I'm completely fine. There's an odd day here or there that I actually do struggle," he shared.
"The mental health of young people across Australia has been profoundly impacted by issues such as COVID-19 lockdowns." Getty

Does Ian Thorpe use his platform to spread awareness for young people?

Ian is a patron and board member for the Australian mental health service that works with young people called ReachOut.
In March of 2021, the sporting legend worked with the organisation to raise funds for youth living with mental health struggles by encouraging Australians to participate in Laps for Life.
On ReachOut's website, Ian shared a statement about the event's success in 2020.
"The mental health of young people across Australia has been profoundly impacted by issues such as COVID-19 lockdowns, high unemployment levels, financial stress and uncertainty about the future, and as we move into 2021, ReachOut continues to support more young people across Australia than ever before.
"Despite the country wide lockdowns, the Laps for Life community swam more than 35,000 kilometres in 2020. An incredible achievement."
"This year, I'm challenging everyone to help us smash that record by jumping in the pool or the ocean and get swimming to raise funds to support our young people," penned Ian.
You can read Ian's autobiography This Is Me by purchasing a copy from Booktopia.
If you or someone you know needs help, you can call Lifeline on 131 114 or Beyond Blue 1300 224 636.

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